Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Book: Change You Brain, Change Your Life

I just finished the audiobook version of "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life," by Dr. Daniel Amen. It currently has 4 (out of 5) stars from 97 Amazon reviewers. I enjoyed it. In fact, I found myself taking my time on my drive to/from Zion NP just so I could listen to more of it.

Dr. Amen is a clinical neuroscientist and psychiatrist who has revolutionized the use of SPECT scan imagery to uncover potential underlying biological bases for many behavioral disorders such as ADD, anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior, schizophrenia, and more. SPECT stands for single photon emission computed tomography and is a nuclear imaging test that involves injecting a person with a slightly radioactive tracer in a chemical that is taken up by their brain. About 15 minutes later a gamma radiation camera is used to take multiple 2D images that are then used to construct a 3D model of the brain function. Here's a little more info from the Mayo Clinic. The gamma emitting tracer used in functional brain scans is hexamethylpropylene amine oxime, which has a half-life of 6 hours.

Dr. Amen has a website www.amenclinics.com dedicated to this work. The website even offers recommended diet and nutritional supplements (as well as medications) that might benefit people who suffer from various disorders. Here's the page for ADHD. Although I would question the sensibility of posting information that promotes self-medication by visitors who might be better served if they were to seek help from their doctor, or even from Dr. Amen's clinics.

Amen suggests that the medical community has taken our brains for granted, practically assuming that everybody's brain is the same. He's found by scanning thousands of people that everybody's brain is different, just like our ears, hearts, eyes, etc. We should address this in the same manner. For example, being nearsighted is not stigmatizing and we have treatments for this condition. Likewise, our brains develop and perform differently and suffer from injury like other organs, and these conditions can also often be treated.

I thought the book was fascinating. For example, one of the disorders that he's been able to correlate with particular brain scan features is called ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). I had never heard of this before, and yet when he described it, I recognized it from several people I've met who behave in exactly that way. ODD is exhibited as a pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months. For example, a person who seems to choose to defy others solely for the purpose of being defiant, even when it's unmistakable that nondefiance is in their best interest. Brief periods of this are sometimes seen in children.

I recommend this book to anybody who might be interested in learning a little about the brain and open to hearing Dr. Amen's controversial ideas.

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